When I was doing research for my PhD, I spent four weeks in Italy. It was truly a wonderful experience. I found Italians to be some of the kindest, friendliest, and most welcoming people I have ever met. However, one incident will always stick out in my mind. I was going somewhere in Rome, and I had taken the Rome Metro, which back then was only an X across the city (they were just beginning work on the C Line when I was there). I don’t remember where I was going that particular day, mainly because of what I ran into when I emerged from the Metro. The street was full of people marching and dressed in black. Angry shouts were coming from the sidewalks from people not dressed in black. One of those dressed in black walked up to me and put a leaflet in my hand. That’s when I realized I’d emerged someplace that I did not want to be. The leaflet was for one of Italy’s neo-facist organizations. I am not fluent in any language but English, but because I studied Spanish throughout my years in school and dabbled a little in French and Italian, I do have a familiarity with most Romance languages, and while I can’t speak any of them well, I can read enough to understand what I’m reading.
When I see the hate groups today marching in the streets of the United States and bolstered by our president, I do see similarities between that Italian neo-fascist parade and what we see today in the United States. The biggest difference is that the Italians were mostly peaceful, the American versions are not. The American hate groups are armed and threatening. While the neo-fascists in Italy had very little representation in the government, we not only have a president that supports them but a political party that is silent about them. The same political party also defends their rights to carry weapons in the streets and terrorize other American citizens. These same political leaders send in secret law enforcement officers to attack peaceful protestors who are trying to change problems with police brutality against minorities but do nothing when the protestors are supporting the current administration, violence and hate. Watch Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) question Attorney General Bill Barr about federal officers who descended on protesters near the White House ahead of a photo-op for President Donald Trump yet ignored protestors who threatened to kill the Michigan governor.
In a Washington Post op-ed published on his retirement, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who was a key witness in President Donald Trump's impeachment inquiry, wrote, “Our national government during the past few years has been more reminiscent of the authoritarian regime my family fled more than 40 years ago than the country I have devoted my life to serving.” So, is Trump just an authoritarian wannabe or is he in fact a fascist? We like to use the word fascist for all kinds of authoritarian regimes, but what does it really mean to be a fascist? Scholars generally agree that there are 14 characteristics of fascism:
- Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
- Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
- Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
- Supremacy of the Military
- Rampant Sexism
- Controlled Mass Media
- Obsession with National Security
- Religion and Government are Intertwined
- Corporate Power is Protected
- Labor Power is Suppressed
- Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
- Obsession with Crime and Punishment
- Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
- Fraudulent Elections
Does Trump fit the characterizations of a fascist? Some but technically not all. He is not a mass murderer like Hitler, but he is a bully like the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and shares some similarities to the fascist corporatism of Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. (1) Trump claims a powerful and continuing nationalism but his seeming loyalty to Vladimir Putin says otherwise. (2) He definitely has a disdain for the recognition of human rights: immigrant children in cages, transphobic and racist rhetoric, etc. (3) Without a doubt, Trump identifies his enemies and those he uses as scapegoats as a way to unify his base. Trump ALWAYS has someone else to blame for everything. (4) Trump claims to fully support the military but his actions when dealing with soldiers such a Vindman who have showed criticism of his policies or Capt. Brett Crozier, who was relieved of his command because he sounded the alarm about an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard his ship, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, while the government denied the pandemic was a problem. The military knows that it cannot trust Trump, a man who knew that Putin had paid bounties for the death of American soldiers yet did nothing and says he did not know about the bounties, contrary to what those closest to him have reported. (6) The next characteristic is rampant sexism. Do I even need to elaborate on that one?
(7) While Trump does not control the mass media, except he has the support of most of Fox News and the One America News Network, he really wishes he could control the media, but that pesky First Amendment stands in his way. (8) Only when he wants to deflect from another disaster he has caused, does Trump seem to become obsessed with National Security. He seemingly worries about China but not the more dangerous Russia or North Korea. (9) Trump has pandered to and protected corporate power, especially when it pertains to his own business interests. The Republican Party elite is made up of an industrial and business aristocracy, who put Trump into power and created a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and an even more powerful elite. (10) Trump has been no friend to organized labor or the average American worker, especially evident during the pandemic when the country has reached record highs in unemployment and his administration is trying to cut needed relief packages for unemployed workers.
(11) Trump has always shown his disdain for intellectuals, while claiming to be a genius and the smartest person in the room, yet he had to cheat to even get into college. He has consistently dismissed scientist over climate issues and dismisses legitimate scientific and medical experts when dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, he did support Dr. Stella Immanuel, a doctor and pastor who claims include blaming medical conditions on witches and demons who have “astral” sex with humans, alleging that alien DNA was being used in medical treatments, and that scientists were cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. The preeminent infectious disease expert in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci, stated that most European countries shut down their economy by 95%, while functionally the U.S. only shut its economy down by 50% and that this is part of the reason the U.S. has continued to see a surge in cases while European countries have seen a sharp decrease. Trump responded in a tweet, “Wrong! We have more cases because we have tested far more than any other country, 60,000,000. If we tested less, there would be less cases.” Last week, Trump retweeted a message that said Fauci had “misled” Americans on a number of issues. Fauci disputed that claim: “I have not been misleading the American public under any circumstances.” Earlier, Trump had characterized Fauci as “a little bit of an alarmist.” Fauci also pushed back on that assertion, saying he considered himself “more a realist than an alarmist.”
(12) With Trump’s current campaign message as being the ‘law and order” candidate and his violent suppression of protesters, he is certainly showing an obsession with crime and punishment, except when it comes to his friends. He cares nothing about following the rule of law himself, yet he had crowds chanting “lock her up” referring to Hillary Clinton during his 2016 campaign and even continued encouraging the chant during his time in office. (13) The Trump administration has been one of the worst administrations in American history for rampant cronyism and corruption. Usually the top of the list of corrupt administrations are those of Grant, Harding, and Nixon (though Reagan’s administration should also rank near the top), but Trump seems bound and determined to outdo them all. A staggering number of people in the Trump administration and his associates have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to jail. A few of these criminals, Trump has distanced himself from but others such as Roger Stone, he pardoned or continues to support. (14) We also know that Trump encouraged the Russians and even the Chinese to interfere with the 2016 election and then did everything he could do to block the investigation into how much election tampering Russia accomplished. Now he is claiming that the coming 2020 election will be fraudulent so he can question the legitimacy of the election, even going to so far as to call for moving the date of the election. All of his election tactics in 2016 and 2020 has been meant to call into suspicion any election that he might not win.
In 1933, Salazar stated: "Our Dictatorship clearly resembles a fascist dictatorship in the reinforcement of authority, in the war declared against certain principles of democracy, in its accentuated nationalist character, in its preoccupation of social order. However, it differs from it in its process of renovation. The fascist dictatorship tends towards a pagan Caesarism, towards a state that knows no limits of a legal or moral order, which marches towards its goal without meeting complications or obstacles. The Portuguese New State, on the contrary, cannot avoid, not think of avoiding, certain limits of a moral order which it may consider indispensable to maintain in its favor of its reforming action." Trump will never be as blatant as Salazar had been about his authoritarian regime because at the end of the day, he does have to answer to the US Constitution and the American people. He may not like it, and he may threaten to circumvent the Constitution and the will of the majority of Americans. He doesn’t understand the rule of law or care anything about knowing the rule of law, but at the end of the day, we have a Supreme Court that has stood up to him (though not always), and we have a House of Representatives that will hold him in check as much as they can. We also have an election coming up that he cannot stop or postpone. We have some governors and mayors who are fighting tooth and nail against his oppression in their states and cities and his ineptitude in dealing with the current pandemic.
So, while like Salazar, he is not a fully-fledged fascist because American laws prevent him from going too far, Trump is without a doubt a wannabe authoritarian. He may have the religious right backing him simply because he’s a Republican and against abortion (he cannot claim to be pro-life due to his lack of sympathy for the death of over 150,000 Americans due to his own ineptitude). He may even have fringe militia groups and hate groups ready to fight for his political survival. What he does not have is the heart and minds of American troops or a positive approval from the majority of Americans. He will never be able to force the United States to reject the election results if he loses. When November 3, 2020 comes and the American people vote him out of office, his term will end at noon on January 20, 2021. For all the Americans who read this blog, it is imperative, it is your duty, and it is your ability to vote Trump out of office that will save the United States. Because if we do not defeat him in November, I fear there will not be a United States to see him reach the limit to his terms of office in 2025. If we want our republic to survive, we must vote for Joe Biden as president on November 3. We need stability and progress in the United States, and we need someone who will respect the laws of this country. So, while you’re at it, vote against every Republican on the ballot and let’s make this a Blue Wave in November.